Yves here. Tom Neuburger, along with other voices, is trying to amplify the growing pressure for Biden to follow through on an idea he broached last week, of declaring a climate emergency as a way to take more muscular action to deal with still-rising greenhouse gas levels. Neuburger contends that this move would help turn around Biden’s flagging popularity.
As much as I agree that the US very much needs to Do Something, color me skeptical.
First, presidents in general and Biden in particular have an unfortunate tendency to promise big and not deliver. For Obama, remember his pledge to close Gitmo as his first act in office? To raise the minimum wage? Biden promised to beat the virus with a wartime-level effort. Was Biden thinking perhaps of the War of Jenkin’s Ear?
Second, I suspect even if invoked, trying to use “climate emergency” authority will produce more controversy and lawsuits than results. A letter from a group of Senators presses Biden to invoke the National Emergency Act as the basis for authority to engage in wide-ranging climate change mitigation activities.
However, if you look at past declarations of the National Emergency Act, they were overwhelmingly for foreign policy matters, like Prohibiting the Importation of Rough Diamonds from Sierra Leone and Blocking Property of Certain Persons Contributing to the Situation in Burundi. The most recent was Blocking Property of Certain Persons Contributing to the Situation in Nicaragua in 2018.
The very few domestic US examples were usually narrow, such as To Suspend Subchapter IV of Chapter 31 of Title 40, United States Code, Within a Limited Geographic Area in Response to the National Emergency Caused by Hurricane Katrina or one related to the H1N1 virus outbreak in 2009. The glaring “this one is not the same as the others” is Declaration of National Emergency by Reason of Certain Terrorist Attacks on 9/14/2001.
Thus it looks as if the Biden Administration would face numerous legal challenges: for the invocation of the Act at all (the past emergencies were well defined’; “climate emergency” is not), for the high odds that restrictions imposed on businesses would arguably rise to the level of Fifth Amendment takings and the affected parties would demand compensation, and over the question of budgetary authority.
Third, Manchin looks to have saved Biden’s “climate emergency” bacon. From Ryan Grim in A Manchin Miracle?
The West Virginia coal baron has stunned Washington and struck a serious climate deal with Chuck Schumer….
The outline of the deal, as announced by the pair, looks like this:
That $369 billion for “energy security and climate change,” if it becomes law, will change the world. It represents the biggest climate investment made by any country ever, and it will unlock potentially trillions in private capital, which is waiting on the sidelines for the types of subsidies, credits and guarantees this bill will include. It’ll also spur other countries to make their own investments, not wanting to fall behind in the industry that will dominate the next century. It’s projected to reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. by 2030 by 40 percent. That’s huge.
Let’s put on our “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts” hat. One problem is the funding side. Grim thinks the $14 billion from private equity will be the most vulnerable part. Um, no, it’s the “prescription drug pricing reform”. The health care industry, year in and year out except for right after the crisis, has the biggest, best funded lobbying effort. Pfizer has just gotten even richer on Covid vaccines. They alone could do a lot to undermine this provision. It isn’t just a matter of the immediate (large) amounts at issue. Pharma no way, no how wants the precedent of negotiated drug prices to be set in the US. They will go to the mat to try to stop it.
Problem two is timing. This is a 700 page bill. Let’s assume the House passes a somewhat different version. Then it has to go to reconciliation. Think those fake Democrats and diehard Republicans might not find a way to drag out the process so it won’t come to a vote in the current Congress?
Fourth, Neuburger takes it as a given that such a forward-thinking, decisive action would reverse Biden’s flagging poll numbers. Sadly, stereotypically instant-gratification Americans, per a fresh New York Times poll, don’t regard battling climate change as a top priority, which is the level of commitment you need to get widespread changes implemented. Only 1% of respondents rated it as the top issue and even among Democrats, only 3%.
By Thomas Neuburger. Originally published at God’s Spies
“This is an emergency. And I will look at it that way. I’ll use my executive powers to combat climate — the climate crisis in the absence of congressional actions.”
—President Joe Biden, July 20, 2022
Rumors are flying that President Biden is on the verge of declaring a “climate emergency.” Both the leftie press and the right-wing media organs are “all a-twit,” as the great W.C. Fields once said about Mae West (script primarily by Mae West, by the way).
What has set the twits a-twittering and a-Tweeting is a July 20 speech by Biden, in which he said in part:
Climate change is literally an existential threat to our nation and to the world.
So my message today is this: Since Congress is not acting as it should — and these guys here are, but we’re not getting many Republican votes — this is an emergency. An emergency. And I will — I will look at it that way. I said last week and I’ll say it again loud and clear: As President, I’ll use my executive powers to combat climate — the climate crisis in the absence of congressional actions, notwithstanding their incredible action. (Applause.) In the coming days, my administration will announce the executive actions we have developed to combat this emergency. We need to act. (emphasis added)
On July 24, “U.S. climate envoy” John Kerry reiterated the President’s position.
As you can imagine, this opens quite a door and more than a few mouths. Heritage, of course, weighed in, fighting tooth and nail to brand the measure “radical” as well as “costly and ineffective.” The rest of the right-wing world is similarly exercised, because “freedom,” of course (meaning, “fossil fuel billionaire profits”).
The View from the Left
The leftie world, the part not tied to Big Money, is all in favor. In fact, that world is saying, “C’mon, already. Do it.”
— arishmaryshow 💋 (@arishmaryshow) July 25, 2022
— GO GREEN (@ECOWARRIORSS) July 25, 2022